It’s my third week here in Barcelona and I think it’s time for me to come to terms with the fact that I will always stick out in the crowd as someone who is definitely not from anywhere near Barcelona. Whether I’m on the metro, walking to school, calling a cab, waiting in line outside a club, or ordering coffee at a bakery, I can feel people scanning me with their eyes and instantly thinking “American.” Most of the time I know they know because I try to speak to them in Spanish and they reply in English. That’s always a confidence booster. Like, “Your Spanish is so bad I’d rather go out of my way to speak your language than listen to you attempt to speak in mine.” The best is when I’m on my way to class in the morning and my roommate and I pass the same homeless man on the steps of a church. He holds his little money cup out and greets all the passersby with “bon dia” (Catalan for good morning) then as soon as we pass he graces us with a personal “good morning!” At this point it’s just become funny to me. People here don’t really dress that much differently than they do in the U.S. but I still feel like every time I walk out the door I’m wearing something that makes me stick out. I still don’t know where I’m going like at all ever because I’m directionally challenged so I’m always either looking at my phone maps or looking up at all the buildings I’ve passed a thousand times but never notices before. Also the fact that I have light blonde hair and freckles. So, yeah, I stand out. I kind of had this idea in my head that after I figured out how things worked here I would feel and look more local-ish, but I know now that’s not how it works. I’m fine with it, though. I know how to work the metro system without getting lost and order coffee in Spanish so I’d say I’ve got the necessities down. My Spanish teacher also told me what to say to my cab driver if he tries to take me the wrong way on purpose to get more money (because that’s happened more than once) so I’m pretty pumped to use that one.
My second week here was much more relaxed than my first. I went to the National Museum of Catalan Art on a class field trip and Park Guell with some friends from UF. Park Guell was beautiful and Gaudi is amazing and the museum looks like a castle that you have to walk up about 5,000 flights of stairs to get to so the view from the entrance was almost as good as the view from the famous Park Guell balcony. Everywhere I go here there’s a scenic view or ancient building or perfectly crafted patates bravas that deserves to be on a post card. I’m definitely not complaining. Here’s a quick rating of everything I’ve tried so far because I get way too excited about food and I don’t even care.
- Croquettas: Still not completely sure honestly. It’s basically like someone put meat in a blender then fried it into a warm soft nugget. I realize how absolutely repulsive that sounds, but trust me it’s the best thing ever.
- Patates Bravas: Signature dish here. It’s potatoes smothered in delicious white and orange sauce. Still unsure what the sauce actually is but I need to find some when I get back to the states and put it on everything I eat.
- Cannelones: Giant noodles filled with meat and smothered in cheese. Basically lasagna but better. I’ve been buying frozen ones from the grocery store to keep in my apartment and I have no shame.
- Empanadillas: Just empanadas, but they’re better here.
- Chorizo: Spicy sausage. Amazing.
This past weekend we took our last excursion with ISA to the South of France and visited Girona (still in Spain- it was more like a long pit stop that included a walking tour), Montpellier, and Collioure. I always love exploring new cities and it was fun being with all the friends I’ve made in my program so far, but being in France just for 3 days made me realize how much I love Barcelona. My roommates and I couldn’t stop talking about how homesick (home being our apartment) we were the whole last day even though the beach at Collioure looked like a scene from a movie. I still can’t get over the water here. The lovely people of France also made me realize how much Spanish I actually do know because in France I know literally nothing and they just don’t speak English. And things are much more expensive. Moral of the story: France is fine but Barcelona is better. Highlight of the weekend: we all went to a random bar our first night in Montepellier and they brought out endless bowls of fries with ketchup and the european mayonnaise (the best dipping sauce ever for fries) FOR FREE. And we got the bartender to sing the French national anthem and wave the French flag around which was highly entertaining. He was definitely the nicest person we met that weekend.
In addition to learning that I can’t speak French, I like Spanish food (a little too much), and I will always be the American tourist here, this past week and a half has brought me even more wisdom than the last that I am, as always, happy to share. Lessons learned during week 2 and 3:
- I have no willpower. My roommates and I like to play this fun game where I say I can’t go out for the fifth night in a row because I really need to get some rest and get over my cold and then they say something like “omg come on” and I’m convinced in less than two minutes. It’s a super fun game. The game also applies to food except in this version it’s just the voice in my head telling me I need a salad and then my actual voice ordering five tapas in bad Spanish at every restaurant I go to. Also super fun.
- I have no sense of direction. I definitely already knew that before coming here but the fact that it’s my third week of classes and I still use my phone maps to get there and back just really puts it in perspective all over again. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m on my street until I pass my front door.
- Sometimes the best spots are stumbled upon by accident. Our very first day here we tried to go to the famous tourist attraction Brunch and Cake but of course there was a ridiculous wait so we wandered into this random little restaurant across the street for lunch. It turns out this place is insanely cheap and so good and only a few blocks from our apartment. They also love us now because last week I ordered a pitcher of sangria to go (in Spanish!!! for 6 euros!!!) and walked out with five small coffee to go cups full of it because they didn’t have any containers big enough. I think that was a first for them. I’m glad they were entertained, but I don’t mess around with my sangria. Now they know.
- Making travel plans is hard. Last night my roommates and I booked our flights and party package (exactly what it sounds like) for Ibiza and all had simultaneous panic attacks when the website we booked the package from only sent a confirmation email to one of us, didn’t provide any hotel information, and didn’t have any working phone numbers listed. And, of course, none of us wanted to pay a whole 9 extra euros for flight insurance, so there was no way out. Thankfully, after much panic and expensive minutes spent on hold with banks and hotels, we confirmed that it wasn’t a scam and we won’t be sleeping on the streets for three nights. The real lesson is to research things thoroughly before booking them, especially if it seems too good to be true and especially if you’re too cheap to buy flight insurance.
- What happens in VIP doesn’t stay in VIP. Meeting promoters and getting into VIP with bottle service every night: good. Not realizing there is a professional photographer capturing the entire night in high definition that will later post all his pictures on Facebook and possibly tag you: bad. Now I know why famous people hate the paparazzi so much.
I’ve learned so much already in these short weeks, just imagine how full of wisdom I’ll be y the end of my trip. I’ll practically be overflowing. On a final note, tomorrow I’m headed to Amsterdam with a big group of UF students. Our Heineken tour and river canal cruise is booked, the red light district has been thoroughly researched, and I am so ready to be in a country where my physical appearance doesn’t automatically reveal me as a tourist (even though taking a picture on the “I Amsterdam” letters probably will).